“My MP said he could not help me because it was not under his purview and a Sikh Govt Minister said that I should be prepared to take my CFA level 2 examination this Saturday without wearing my Kirpan”, Rattan Deep Singh of New Delhi.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa! Waheguru ji ki Fateh!
Today, first thing in the morning, I saw a message from Mejindarpal Kaur of UNITED SIKHS and I almost sprang out of my bed. It was a head over heels moment for me. It read, “CFA Institute has allowed you to wear the kirpan. Check your mail. Vaheguroo.”
Delighted, elated, overwhelmed, excited, thrilled, ecstatic were some of the few emotions that I went through at that time.
The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute is a prestigious USA-based global association of more than 120,000 investment professionals, and I had been preparing to sit for their level 2 exams so I could be a charter holder in the near future. But last week I was informed by the CFA Institute that I would have to sit for my exams without wearing my kirpan, a mandatory Sikh kakaar (article of faith) that I have been wearing since I took amrit (became an initiated Sikh) in April. They said that under the ‘Institute’s exam security policy, knives of any type including box cutters, swords, or any other object that could be used as a weapon is not permitted.’
It all started on May 20th this year. I was preparing for my CFA Level 2 exams when I read a news article that a Sikh student in Haryana (India) was barred from entering the examination hall to do the engineering entrance exam. He took a brave step of taking a stand and was denied entry and lost out on 40 precious minutes of his exam time.
That incident incredulously involved an Indian examination authority. My exam however is conducted by a Virginia (USA) based institute, in over 150 countries, and was scheduled for June 4 in the India Expo Mart in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. To avoid any last moment complications, I wrote an email to the CFA Institute asking them to confirm that I would not face any problem wearing a kirpan during the examination. But to my shock, they said I could not wear my kirpan. According to their mail dated 25th May, the CFA Institute said that they respected my religious beliefs but that their exam security policy excluded the carrying of knives of any type including box cutters, swords, or any other object that could be used as a weapon.
Weapon! It just struck me. An article of faith that bore the qualities of mercy (kripa) and self-respect (aan) is today perceived by the world as just another knife or weapon? It didn’t go down well. I was given this kirpan by Guru Gobind Singh Ji (the 10th Sikh Guru) himself through the Punj Pyare (5 Beloved Ones) who initiated me on April 13 of this year. Guru Sahib made me wait for a good 26 years of my life before bestowing me with this kirpan; before giving me the ambrosial nectar (amrit); before making me a part of his army, his panth – the Khalsa (the sovereign). How can I remove my kirpan for the sake of an exam? My forefathers include martyrs Baba Deep Singh, Bhai Taru Singh, Bhai Mani Singh, my brothers – the Sahibzada’s, they all put their blood into the roots of this plant called Sikhi. I am blessed to be reborn in the family whose history comprise of valiant warriors fighting for the sake of righteousness, be it for others (kirpa) or themselves (aan).
I, therefore, decided not to be a part of a course or an institute that doesn’t respect my religion. I decided to quit! This is exactly when Guru Gobind Singh Ji called upon me to say, “Khalsa so, jo kare nitt Jung” (He is a Khalsa, who does battle every day).
Hence, it was decided. Quitting is not an option for a member of this family for whom “Rann tatta dekh soore chit ullaas”, who actually feel joyous in the midst of a raging war. To shriek away, to cower, to quit is never taught to us. We would rather prefer to die fighting than live as a quitter. “Jab aav ki oudh nidhaan bane, Att he rann me tab joojh maro”! Then so be it! I was determined that whatsoever happens in this case, no other person of Sikh brotherhood shall be subject to such discrimination, especially by premier educational institutions.
It was time that the world realized that this so called weapon was bestowed by the Gurus not just as a mark of power but with an obligation also, “Choo kar az huma heelate darguzasht, Halaal-ast burdan b-shamsheer dast” – in order to stop evil from running through, use all possible strategies and resources available; and when you are left with no other option, then to fight oppression it would be apt for you to pick up the sword!
On 26th May I sent the CFA Institute an email explaining my legal rights to wear the kirpan, under the Indian Constitution, and the stand taken by various governments worldwide in accommodating the kirpan, including the European Parliament, the Canadian Parliament, Australia, the UK, amongst others. Meanwhile, I sought help from various organizations who protect and uphold human rights around the world. After getting a cold reply from a couple of them and no reply from the majority, one Mejindarpal Kaur of UNITED SIKHS came forward to help.
Till that time, I didn’t know who the UNITED SIKHS people were or what they do as an organization. All I knew was that my Guru is on my side at all times, “Guru mere sang sada hai naale”.
Mejindarpal Kaur, International Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS, took up this matter herself. She herself called me up, heard my side of the story, discussed the case in depth and assured me her best efforts. I didn’t know what was in store for me as the exam was just a week away by then.
Initially, I wasn’t even sure if my case will be taken up seriously or not. What would an organization based in the UK, in the name of charity, do for a person they haven’t ever seen; didn’t know he even existed before that day; who they can never trace if he refused later on? I was skeptical. That’s what an analyst is supposed to be though. So I was trying other options as well. I went to my Member of Parliament who said my case did not fall under his purview even though it involved the violation of my fundamental constitutional right in India (article 25 of Indian Constitution accommodates right of Sikhs to wear a kirpan everywhere, all the time). He referred the case to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee ( DSGMC) as the matter related to the Sikh religion, who referred me further to a Sikh Govt Minister in Uttar Pradesh, where the examination center was located. Incredibly this Minister said that any kirpan or Kakaar doesn’t make one a Sikh. His comments were heart wrecking. Broken that I was to have heard such a thing from a Sikh.
On the other hand, Mejindarpal Kaur blew away all my doubts! She tapped all possible resources and avenues that I didn’t even know existed! All by herself, she reached to the highest level at the CFA Institute, Members of Parliament in India, High Court lawyers, authorities of the venue where the exam was held and many more. Almost single handedly, she shook all the authorities. I didn’t even have to step out of my house (as she said I should study for the examination). She took it upon herself, as if it was her own case; as if her personal right was at stake. And she did all this while her mother was ill in Malaysia! Dhan Guru, Dhan Guru ke Sikh! Maybe that’s why Guru Saab says, “Jo deese Gursikhda tis niv niv laagu paaye jiyo!”
Within four days of taking up the matter, UNITED SIKHS delivered what they had assured me of. The CFA Institute have been kind enough to reconsider their decision and allow me to wear the kirpan during my exam on Saturday. They have also decided to take up UNITED SIKHS offer to help them look at their policy the world over for the accommodation of the kirpan.
I thank Pritham Bhagauti, the Almighty, my Guru Sahib, UNITED SIKHS, Mr. Paul Smith – President and CEO of the CFA Institute for reconsidering their policy for the sake of religious freedom and human rights, Senior Advocate Amarjeet Singh Chandhiok who was ready to offer his pro bono services if needed and Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi MP of Patiala, who was kind enough to write a letter to my MP, the CFA Institute and the exam center authorities. I thank my family – for standing by my decision of not entering the examination hall by removing my kirpan. I thank Rhythm Kaur (my younger sister) who was instrumental in this fight, without whom I might not have been able to carry on due to a shortage of time and the necessity to prepare for the examination, she handled all my communications, etc.
I never thought that there will be someone in another corner of this world who would take up this battle even more seriously and sincerely than myself. I just can’t thank UNITED SIKHS enough! I am a Chartered Accountant by profession and I do hereby pledge my all possible services that UNITED SIKHS feel me worthy of performing.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa! Waheguru ji ki Fateh! (The Khalsa is The Great Gurus, Victory is the Great Guru’s)
Rattan Deep Singh, New Delhi
*UNITED SIKHS (www.unitedsikhs.org) is a UN-affiliated civil and human rights advocacy organization that is a registered NGO in 10 countries including India, UK and the USA, which works tirelessly to engage, empower, and safeguard the rights of minority communities worldwide and protecting religious freedoms is a cornerstone of their mandate.
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